Merry Kitschmas

vintage & retro Christmas collecting

Kitsch vintage pink Christmas decorations

kitsch christmas decorations
I love kitschy junk, and nothing says 'kitsch' more than vintage Christmas. My favourite decorations are from the 1950s and 1960s, but I have a number of World War II and older pieces, with the oldest ones dating to the 1930s. One of my prized possessions is an antique green Revlis aluminum taper tree. Sadly, the original box was destroyed in a house flood.

If you want to have a kitsch Christmas in your home this year, then using vintage Christmas decorations is a must. This allows you to take a stroll down the memory lane and bring the memories of a kitsch right into your home.

Have yourself a merry little Kitschmas this year.

Start with the tree

aluminum christmas trees Why deal with the needle cleanup of a live tree? Go for the most fake tree you can imagine: the aluminum Christmas tree. It's shiny, it's atomic, and it can even be recycled if it ever falls apart. It is the ultimate in holiday kitsch.

A brief history of aluminum Christmas trees

Aluminum trees were first manufactured in 1958 by the Aluminum Specialty Company. The trees consisted of a center pole with holes drilled in at an angle, to which branches covered in aluminum "needles" were attached. By placing the branches in the holes, a tree shape is formed.

The trees were in common usage until the late 1960s when they fell out of favour. Today, however, they are once again becoming popular with collectors. While a basic silver tree can be had for a low price, the rarer colours can go for hundreds of dollars.

The colours of aluminum Christmas trees

revlis aluminum christmas trees

Aluminum trees come in many colours. The most common colour is silver, but one can also find gold, green (pictured left), blue, and pink.

Some companies even made blended colours like blue/silver, blue/green and green/silver which had two colours of aluminum needles on each branch. The blended colours are extremely rare.

Why use a colour wheel?

Due to safety concerns, the trees could not be strung with lights in the usual manner. Instead, illumination is provided with the use of a separate color wheel on the floor nearby. This wheel consisted of a rotating coloured disk through which light was projected. The coloured disks broke easily and are hard to find nowadays.

Do you need a tree turner?

Strictly, no, but I think it adds a lot to the display. A regular stationary stand would be fine if you have one, but having your aluminum Christmas tree rotate just looks cool. The nice thing about these trees (as opposed to a real tree) is that there is no "bad side", so why not show all sides of the tree?

How to assemble your aluminum Christmas tree

aluminum christmas trees

  1. If you have a taper tree, sort the branches by size. Most aluminum Christmas trees have branches which are all one length; if this is like yours, skip this step.
  2. Set up the stand. Those with rotating Christmas tree stands will want to ensure that the cord for their stand isn't out where someone can trip.
  3. Set up the center pole. Taller trees have a two or more part center pole. Just prong it together.
  4. Secure the center pole into the stand.
  5. Place branches into the holes on the center pole. Long branches go at the bottom. I suggest starting at the bottom and working your way up.
  6. Decorate the tree as desired. Vintage ornaments look great on vintage Christmas trees.
  7. Remember, no strings of lights on aluminum Christmas trees!
  8. Set up the colour wheel nearby.
  9. Happy holidays!

Dream of kitsch Christmas decorations

It's a huge addition to the kitsch factor to decorate for Christmas in a single colour. Imagine an entire house decorated for a pink Christmas -- or an aquamarine Christmas, or gold if that suits your fancy. Choose everything from ornaments to wreaths with an eye toward colour overload.


christmas kugel ornament In 1880, F.W. Woolworth bought glass kugels (silvered glass balls) from Germany and sold them in his stores. They quickly sold out, and so a new tradition was born. By the 1920s, glassmakers in Czechoslovakia started making Christmas baubles, as did the Japanese glassmakers. Both of these were less expensive than Christmas ornaments from the original makers in Germany. Max Eckardt & Sons in New York also started making these kugels at the end of the 1930s under the brand "Shiny Brite".

christmas kugel ornament Look for silver, gold, cobalt blue, green, and of course shades of pink. Often you will see glass kugels displayed on vintage feather trees, or on live trees, but if you have them, use them on whatever tree you have. There are two sizes of balls (2 inch or 4 inch) in addition to egg-, pear- or grape-shaped ornaments.

Today kugels are rare and expensive if found in reasonably good condition. They are quite fragile as most of them have been broken over the years.

Made in Germany ornaments

Two of these were made circa 1940 by Resl Lenz in Germany. They consist of blown glass shapes with a foil figure inside and foil trim at top and bottom. The bell is also German made of similar vintage, clear glass with mica detailing. These are the oldest ornaments in my collection.

christmas resl lenz christmas resl lenz christmas glass mica bell

Made in Japan Christmas decor

Not just ornaments but also hanging and tabletop decor.

Inarco Japan, circa 1960. The elves have stockinette faces with a cloth over wire body.

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Calverts of Berwyn ILL, Made in Japan. Circa 1960. Mistletoe Elf with stockinette face and cloth over wire body. She has her original tag.

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Unmarked, Made in Japan, circa 1960. These elves and angels have stockinette faces with a cloth over wire body or foiled cardstock with detailing.

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These are spun cotton angels. Some are marked "Made in Japan" while others are unmarked, circa 1960. These decorations consist of spun cotton heads with silk hair, chenille limbs, felt or foiled cardstock bodies, and some detailing such as candles.

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This is a soft plastic holly hanger. The elf has a hard vinyl face and felt detailing. Made in Japan, circa 1965.

christmas mistletoe elf japan

Bottlebrush and tabletop tinsel trees. Made in Japan. The silver tree is early 1950s with mercury glass ornaments. The gold tree is mid-1960s. Bottlebrush trees are circa 1960 with flocking, garlands, and tiny glass bead ornaments.

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Lucite ornaments

These are solid Lucite, unmarked, circa 1970. I remember seeing these sold at Woolworth's.

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Other ornaments

Goose egg diorama ornament, circa 1950. I suspect this was made from a kit.

christmas goose egg ornament

The Christmas Pickle

The Christmas pickle is not really a pickle at all. It is a pickle-shaped blown glass ornament which is the last one placed on the tree on Christmas Eve. The first child to find the Christmas pickle gets an extra gift from Saint Nicholas, or so the story goes. This custom, like many Christmas traditions, originated in Germany.

Christmas lights

A big part of decorating for Christmas is hanging the strings of lights that make the house sparkle and shine. If you want kitsch decorations, use vintage lights.

Warning: Vintage incandescent lights are not the same as modern LEDs and CFLs. They get very hot very fast, and will have the old-style ungrounded plugs. Be very careful if you use them.

Ugly Christmas sweaters

time to get your tacky on with ugly Christmas sweaters
If you like to celebrate your holidays retro-style, why not incorporate one of the finest of kitsch holiday traditions: the ugly Christmas sweater. If it's tacky, lights up, makes noise, or just plain looks like something your Auntie Edna might wear to appear festive -- it qualifies as an ugly Christmas sweater. So cliché it's fun: go for the kitsch. If your family says "ugh!", turn a kitsch eye toward clothing choices. These things don't get to be stereotypical kitsch by themselves.

It's that time of year: time to get your tacky on with your very favourite ugly Christmas sweater!

Knit your own ugly Christmas sweater

If you know how to knit, it's easy to make an ugly Christmas sweater from a normal sweater knitting pattern by including all your favourite kitsch Christmas elements.

If you are a bit less certain of your creative skills, get a pattern specifically intended as a Christmas sweater. Whether you want glittery snowmen or tacky plaid golfer Santas, with a little time and planning you can make your own ugly Christmas sweater.

elements of an ugly Christmas sweater The essential elements of an ugly Christmas sweater include:

If you are lacking in the crafty skills department however, there is always the option of just buying a pre-made ugly sweater. The local thrift store is certain to have some suitable options as the holiday season approaches.

Tip: If the holidays are fast approaching and you can't find just the right ugly Christmas sweater, you can easily fake it. Take a plain white T-shirt or sweatshirt and iron on a tacky Christmas appliqué. Voila! Instant ugly Christmas sweater!

This is also a great solution when your favourite ugly Christmas sweater "accidentally" gets destroyed in the laundry by well-meaning family members just as the holiday season begins.

In fact, why limit yourself to just one? Have several ugly Christmas sweaters on hand for all your holiday festivities.

When the season is over, make sure that plenty of space is available to store them for next year. Of course, the best way to keep the moths away from your ugly Christmas sweater collection with fine all-natural cedar chips.

Remember, if the moths get your sweaters, you won't have them for next year.

Share the ugly Christmas sweater kitsch love

The only thing that is better than being tacky alone is sharing the joy with others. Host an ugly Christmas sweater party where everyone can show off their tacky best. If someone destroys your favourite ugly Christmas sweater, gift them one to share the kitschy joy.

Where to find vintage Christmas decorations

Try any of the following:

Further reading

You might also enjoy these books:

merry kitschmas Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael Conway (Chronicle Books, 2004): A kitsch guide to celebrating Christmas complete with craft and recipe ideas. More text than photos, so it isn't a coffee table book. If you are here for the kitsch, it's a must-read.   season's gleamings Season's Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree by John Shimon (Melcher Media, 2004): Aside from a brief history of the aluminum tree, this is a coffee table book. The tree photos are stunning, though, especially the "action" shots with the time-lapse tree turning running. If you love your aluminum Christmas tree (or just wish you had one), you will enjoy this.

These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

Flamingo Crossing